Behind the Leather: Examining Luis Robert’s Gold Glove Award

On Tuesday evening the winners for the annual Rawlings Gold Glove Award were announced for both the American and National League. While the White Sox had a whopping five nominees for this year’s honors, only rookie center-fielder Luis Robert was ultimately deemed the best defender at his position by the folks at Rawlings.

Robert beat out fellow finalists Byron Buxton (MIN) and Ramon Laureano (OAK) for his first career Gold Glove. Robert wasn’t the only first-time winner this year, in fact, there were 11 first-time recipients this year.

Like much of 2020, the process in deciding the winner of the award was different than in previous years. For the first time, Rawlings decided the award based solely on analytics, using the parameters below that I found on their website.

Due to the compressed 2020 season, the Award qualifications have been amended to rely solely on the SDI which draws on and aggregates two types of existing defensive metrics: those derived from batted ball location-based data and those collected from play-by-play accounts. SDI utilizes MLBAM’s Statcast, Sports Information Solutions data, and STATS, LLC data as well as traditional statistics with advanced analysis.

For 2020 Award consideration, pitchers must have pitched at least 50 innings, catchers must have played in at least 29 games and infielders/outfielders must have completed at least 265 defensive innings. Each player qualifies at the position he has played at most (SDI is only for play at the qualified position).”

This isn’t entirely unprecedented, as the folks at Rawlings introduced a partial reliance on analytics back in 2013, but this is the first year where the award was decided entirely by them.

With the new formula producing such a large number of first-time winners, it’s intriguing enough to dig a little better deeper into the numbers to look at how they came to the conclusion of choosing Luis Robert for the award this year.

Let’s first take a look at UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), which FanGraphs notes as the most common and available defensive metric. UZR is calculated using four other defensive metrics (ARM, DPR, RngR, ErrR). Don’t worry, we’ll touch on those shortly.

Here’s how this year’s finalists stack up in that department:

  1. Ramon Laureano (OAK) – 3.4
  2. Luis Robert (CWS) – 2.6
  3. Byron Buxton (MIN) – 2.5

It’s interesting that Robert trailed Laureano in UZR by nearly a full point, but even more interesting is that Kevin Kiermaier wasn’t even one of the three finalists. Rawlings notes that the minimum inning threshold is 265 innings at the position, but Kiermaier has 350.2 innings logged in centerfield according to FanGraphs. Kiermaier’s 7.7. UZR blows the other three finalists away.

By FanGraphs’ definition, here are the four metrics that comprise UZR:

  • Outfield Arm Runs (ARM) – The number of runs above average an outfielder saves with their arm by preventing runners from advancing.
  • Double-Play Runs (DPR) – The amount of runs above average an infielder is by turning double-plays.
  • Range Runs  (RngR) – Is the player an Ozzie Smith or an Adam Dunn? Do they get to more balls than average or not?
  • Error Runs (ErrR) – Does the player commit more or fewer errors compared with a league-average player at their position?

Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) is another fielding metric that is widely used when assessing a defensive player’s value. Here’s how it’s defined: “Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) is a defensive statistic calculated by The Fielding Bible, an organization run by John Dewan, that rates individual players as above or below average on defense.”

Here’s how the three finalists stack up this season when it comes to DRS:

  1. Byron Buxton (MIN) – 11
  2. Luis Robert (CWS) – 8
  3. Ramon Laureano (OAK) – 5

Once again, Luis Robert stacks up in the middle of the three finalists with Byron Buxton on top this time with 11 DRS in 2020.

If you jump over to MLB Advanced Media’s Statcast website, you find a picture more favorable to Robert’s case. Check out the table below.

 Outs Above AverageExpected Catch Probability (%)Actual Catch Probability (%)Catch Probability Added (%)BurstRouteFeet vs. AvgFeet Covered
Robert (CWS)7899340.
Laureano (OAK)391932-0.60.2-0.833.2
Buxton (MIN)3919430.50.6-0.334.1
All statistics featured in this table courtesy of Statcast

While FanGraphs’ two most widely used defensive metrics have Luis Robert in the middle of the pack, Statcast paints a much different picture when it comes to this trio of finalists.

Robert comes out on top of the group in all of the listed Statcast defensive metrics, showing off his incredible range and speed as the likely deciding factor in this year’s Gold Glove Award competition in centerfield.

While we don’t have Rawlings’ complete formula to reference, we can assume that there was a heavy reliance on Statcast data versus the common advanced defensive metrics, and more particularly, the eye test.

It will be interesting to see if Rawlings decides to stick with the purely analytical formula in deciding future Gold Glove Awards, or returns to their previous formula in 2021 when we — hopefully — have a full 162-game slate of data to work with.

Featured Photo: Nam Y. Huh/AP


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